I wake up with a start, dehydrated, hot, and confused – ‘Where are the runners? What time is it? Have I over slept?’ Reaching for the phone tucked under my makeshift pillow, I log onto the tracker – it’s fine, the girls have summited Scarfell pike and are in a strong 3rd position – no panic, they should be back to the boat in around four hours.
This has been the first sleep over one hour that any of the sailing crew have had since we left Caernafon yesterday morning – every one of our five crew is being pushed to the absolute limits of endurance.
Since leaving the start line in Barmouth on Saturday we have been plagued by light winds over the whole course. The leg to Caernafon took nine hours and ended up with an exciting hour as we crossed the bar into the river at midnight, in the dark, racing down the tiny channel, piloting from buoy to buoy at 10 knots over the ground and around 100m behind the boat in second, my stomach was in knots. We dropped the runners, just as it was getting dark and they ran off to summit Snowdon while we dropped anchor and readied the boat for leg 2.
The running has been tight, competition on the mountain is hot, but our athletes Jo and Lowri have been holding an incredible pace and right now are on their way down from Scarfell pike in third position. They completed Snowden in 4hr 54 mins, and to put that in perspective it was in the dark, running from the pier to the summit and a distance of over marathon length.
We started leg 2 in 7th position but with only 40 mins separating us and the first placed boat; the course is to sail from Caernafon to Whitehaven via any route chosen. The whole fleet bar one, chose the shorter distance, to sail through the Menai straits and we were treated to a light wind tussle, against a strong tide, all the way to the Britannia bridge. We approached the Swelllies with no wind at all and had to navigate this notorious section of water under oars and yet again had my heart was in my mouth as we rowed across an ever building tide dodging rocks.
At the beginning of this race, the team agreed that for the first two legs the runners would do nothing but rest and run – our sailing team made up of myself, Nikki and Elin would take all of the strain, sailing, rowing and organising the boat to ensure we gave the best possible chance for our runners to perform.
The sailing team managed 1.5 hours sleep at Caernafon and since then – we have been on it for 30 hours with only 1 or 2 hours sleep each. The lighter winds have persisted the whole leg and our J120 Nunatak has required constant attention to keep moving through the water.
Yesterday we rowed and epic 6 miles from the Swellies to the end of the Menai straits, taking it in 20 min shifts on the oars and desperately trying to get out of the channel before the tide turned again. We managed to pull up to third place on leaving the Straits and sailed out into Liverpool Bay and a big flat expanse of no wind. For the remaining 80 miles we have been coaxing every ounce of speed out of the boat, changing sails frequently to accommodate the slightest change in wind angle, constantly adjusting settings as the breeze built and dropped off again. As soon as we got on a roll, things would change never allowing any time to turn off and just sail.
Through yesterday we managed to climb up to a decent first place and then fell back to third as the breeze died inshore in the early hours of the morning. With 7 miles to the finish we were once again becalmed with the rest of the fleet in sight on the horizon and it was time to row. After 30 hours of sailing and no sleep we dug in to row the final three hours of the race, determined to keep our third position and make it in through the lock gates before the tide made access impossible.
I just woke up from a three hour sleep. Nikki and Elin woke up at exactly the same time, we have had an update from the runners and they will be back on board in around three hours. We can’t sleep anymore, the tension is enormous, and they are holding a great pace but have been overtaken by a couple of the other teams who have incredibly strong athletes.
The leg ahead will be tough; more light winds with challenging geography and tides, we estimate the first boat will have a three hour lead on us but we are still very much in the game. The sailing team need to catch the lead boat and then double that lead to keep our girls ahead on the Ben. We have tidied and checked every inch of the boat, discussed our planning and are now pacing around with lots of nervous energy, willing the running team on. By the time they return they will have cycled from Whitehaven into the heart of the Lake District, run up Scarfell pike and then cycled back to us. I am suffering from the strangest of feelings, watching our team on a tracker, willing them on, desperately wanting to do something to improve their performance and totally unable. Although we had never all met before the start of this race we could not have gelled better – I have total respect for every member of Team Aparito, there are no passengers, there are no egos we are a team of athletes working together, pushing each other to the limits of endurance and it is a great feeling.
This race is far from over, there will only be hours separating us from the following teams as we head for Fort William and I know the conditions ahead will be changeable providing multiple opportunities for others to get ahead if we make a wrong decision.